Top 10: the biggest airline sponsorships in football

Football is an incredibly lucrative sector and airlines are among those hoping to benefit. Noah Bovenizer looks at the ten biggest sponsorships in the sport.

Manchester City's partnership with Etihad Airways is one of the most lucrative in football. Credit: Visionhaus/Getty Images

The lucrative world of football sponsorship goes back decades and includes companies from a vast array of industries, but airlines in particular have come to dominate some of the biggest deals in the sport. The Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar names are almost synonymous with some of the biggest clubs in the world.

report by GlobalData recently found that the total value of all sponsorship deals between airlines and football-related organisations totalled over $521m, more than five times bigger than the industry’s spending in any other sport. 

With deals spanning multiple clubs, leagues, and countries, we’ve looked into ten of the biggest airline sponsorship deals in football, by annual value.

10. The Spanish National Team and Iberia: $4m

Iberia is partnered with the Spanish National Teams until at least 2026. Credit: Iberia/IAG

While not a direct sponsorship of a football club, Iberia’s sponsorship of the Royal Spanish Football Federation includes the company serving as the official airline of Spain’s national men’s and women’s teams. 

The partnership is a relatively new deal, as the company first became the federation’s official airline in 2018 with a three-year agreement that was then extended in 2022, meaning it will last until at least 2026 with a total value of $26m.

9. The German National Team and Lufthansa: $4m

Lufthansa has been a partner of the German National teams since 2005. Credit: Lufthansa InTouch/Facebook

The second sponsorship of a national football team on the list, Lufthansa’s agreement with the German Football Association and its national teams is both the most valuable partnership between an airline and a team local to its home country, and the biggest deal for an airline not based in the Middle East.

Stemming back to 2005, the airline has extended its sponsorship of the association four times to last until at least 2026, with the latest agreement including marketing rights for the 2024 UEFA European Championship in Germany.

8. Benfica and Emirates Airlines: $12.5m

The Emirates deal with Portuguese club Benfica has been extended on a year-by-year basis since 2021. Credit: Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

The first entry of many in the top ten for the United Arab Emirates’ flag carrier, Emirates’ sponsorship of Sport Lisboa e Benfica is also the only agreement with a Portuguese club to feature on the list. 

Going back to 2015, the high-profile sponsorship of the Primeira Liga club is currently only set to continue until 2024, but has been extended year by year since 2021, after two initial agreements lasting three years each in 2015 and 2018.

7. Olympique Lyonnais and Emirates Airlines: $21.7m

Emirates and Lyon agreed a $110m deal in 2020. Credit: Arnaud Finistre/AFP/ Getty Images

Another Emirates deal in football’s top ten, this five-year sponsorship was announced in 2020 and saw the airline return to France’s Ligue 1 as the shirt sponsor of Olympique Lyonnais, otherwise known as Lyon. 

The sponsorship is worth around $110m across its lifetime and also includes a range of other marketing and ticketing opportunities, such as heavy branding for the airline across Lyon’s Groupama Stadium.

6. AC Milan and Emirates Airlines: $32m

Italian club AC Milan’s current agreement will result in an Emirates partnership lasting over 20 years. Credit: Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Though ranking in the bottom half of the top ten, AC Milan is notable for being the only Italian club to feature on the list thanks to its longstanding relationship with Emirates, which extends back to 2007 when the company first became the club’s official airline. 

This sponsorship was then expanded in 2010 when Emirates replaced betting company Bwin as the Seria A club’s main shirt sponsor in a five-year deal, which has since been extended multiple times in 2014, 2020, and 2022. 

AC Milan’s current agreement with Emirates will bring the relationship over the 20-year mark by continuing until at least 2029 and totals around $185m, bringing the entire value of the partnership to almost $450m over its lifetime.

5. Atletico Madrid and Riyadh Air: $43.9m

Despite having not commenced operations yet, Riyadh Air has agreed a bumper deal with Spain’s Atletico Madrid. Credit: Jose  Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto/Getty Images

One of the newest partnerships on the list, Spain’s Atletico Madrid and Saudi Arabia’s newest airline, Riyadh Air, only signed their agreement in August 2023, prematurely terminating the club’s existing shirt sponsorship contract with crypto platform WhaleFin. 

The sponsorship is also particularly notable for the fact that Riyadh Air is actually yet to start commercial operations, with a scheduled start date of 2025, but has already made it into the top ten with its first sports partnership, joining many other airlines from the Middle East. 

Despite being agreed in the nascent stages of the airline’s existence, the sponsorship of the La Liga team is set to continue until at least 2027 with a total value of just over $175m.

4. Arsenal and Emirates Airlines: $64m

The Emirates Airline name is synonymous with London’s most successful club, through both shirt sponsorships and stadium naming rights. Credit: David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

The longest of many Emirates Airlines sponsorships in football, the company’s shirt and stadium sponsorship deal with Arsenal goes back to 2004 when the two organisations signed an initial eight-year partnership worth over $178m. 

Their agreement was then extended in 2012, 2018, and 2023, with the North London club frequently boasting their partnership as one of the biggest deals in football. 

The most recent deal with Arsenal will see the airline remain the shirt and stadium sponsor for the club until 2028, adding another $320m to the total value of the sponsorship agreement and ensuring one of the Premier League’s longest agreements will continue through most of the decade.

3. Manchester City and Etihad Airways: $68m

Etihad Airways’ sponsorship of Manchester City is the most lucrative deal with an airline in the Premier League. Credit: Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

The biggest deal on the list from the Premier League, Manchester City’s partnership with Etihad Airways is perhaps the first airline sponsorship many would think of in the soccer industry thanks to its wide-spanning reach. 

Etihad first became the shirt sponsor for Manchester City in 2009, before majorly stepping up its partnership in 2011. In a ten-year deal to expand its sponsorship, Etihad Airways gained the naming rights to Manchester City’s stadium and training complex. 

That deal between Etihad Airways and Manchester City has since been extended multiple times up to the 2023-24 season, taking it to over $800m in total value, and is likely to continue in the coming years.

2. Real Madrid and Emirates Airlines: $68.1m-$70m

The partnership between Emirates and Real Madrid is the second most lucrative in the Spanish League. Credit: David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

The biggest of many deals for Emirates in the football world, Spanish La Liga club Real Madrid and the airline have a relationship lasting over a decade, with the Emirati flag carrier first signing a $5m a year sponsorship deal in 2011 to become the team’s official airline partner. 

Since then, the official airline deal was renewed for five years in 2013, for $30m a year, before Emirates became the club’s shirt sponsor in 2018 in an agreement that was worth more than $82m a year at the time. 

In a sign of a strengthening partnership, the deal was then extended in 2022 until 2026 and sits alongside Barcelona’s deal with Spotify as the second biggest shirt sponsorship in Europe. 

Additionally, the club’s dealings with the United Arab Emirates also includes a tourism sponsorship agreement with Visit Dubai.

1. Paris Saint-Germain and Qatar Airways: $80m

Qatar Airways will be the main shirt sponsor on Paris Saint-Germain shirts until 2027. Credit: Catherine Steenkeste/Qatar Airways/Getty Images

Not just the biggest airline sponsorship in football, Qatar Airway’s sponsorship of French club Paris Saint-Germain is also the biggest shirt sponsorship in Europe. 

Since being purchased by the Emir of Qatar and Qatar Sports Investments, the team has had a close relationship with many of the country’s national brands. 

Qatar Airways first got involved with Paris Saint-Germain in 2020 when it announced it would be a premium partner and official airline of the French club, in a deal worth between $5m and $10m a year. 

This partnership was consolidated in 2022, when Qatar Airways became the primary shirt sponsor of Paris Saint-Germain until at least 2027, in a deal potentially worth more than $400m and including a range of other sponsorships – such as fan travel packages through Qatar Airways Holidays and the designation of Hamad International Airport as the Paris Saint-Germain’s official airport.